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February 16, 2019

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Bowl pick’em against the spread: Part 1

Cozart LVB

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Boise State’s quarterback Montell Cozart, center, runs past Fresno State’s George Helmuth, left, and Tank Kelly during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 25 2017.

Nowhere celebrates the arrival of bowl games more than Las Vegas, which is why it feels appropriate that college football’s unique postseason now annually starts here.

For the fifth straight year, the Las Vegas Bowl is presented as the featured matchup on the first day of bowl season, which brings a 16-day sports betting bonanza to town. Boise State takes on Oregon as a 7-point underdog in this year’s iteration.

The last time the Broncos played in the Las Vegas Bowl was also the last time the game wasn’t contested on the opening bowl day. That was when they edged Washington 28-26 on Dec. 22, 2012, to win their third straight Las Vegas Bowl.

Boise State would tie BYU for the most Las Vegas Bowl victories, with four, if it upsets Oregon. The Broncos haven’t covered in all of the previous wins, though.

After cashing in blowout wins over Utah in 2010 and Arizona State in 2011, Boise State was a 4.5-point favorite in the narrow victory over Washington. Will the Broncos get back to their covering ways this year?

Check below for Talking Points’ pick, along with the other seven bowl games scheduled for the next six days. The blog went 106-100-4 against the spread picking the biggest games each week during the regular season, and 24-17 on bowls last season to make the seven-year total record picking every bowl game 143-105-3.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy minus-7 vs. North Texas, over/under: 62

10 a.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Los Angeles on ESPN

The Mean Green are stellar on offense but shaky on defense. The Trojans are the exact opposite. That makes both teams appear pretty evenly matched, aside from a few blowout losses suffered by North Texas. But the competition must be considered, as teams like Florida Atlantic and Iowa that starched North Texas are better than Troy.

Pick: North Texas plus-7

Autonation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky minus-6 vs. Georgia State, over/under: 53

11:30 a.m. Saturday, Camping World Stadium in Orlando on CBS Sports Network

Georgia State is comfortably the worst team in a bowl game by Football Outsiders’ F/+ rankings, sitting at No. 111 in the nation after losing its last two games and failing to cover in the final four. That makes this game feature the rare three-point line swing — it opened as low as minus-4 and has reached as high as minus-7 at some sports books —that doesn’t feel too severe.

Pick: Western Kentucky minus-6

Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State plus-7 vs. Oregon, over/under: 61

12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on ABC

Excitement surrounding Oregon has reached a heightened state with quarterback Justin Herbert returning from an injury to torch Arizona and Oregon State for a total of 536 yards and six touchdowns in the Ducks’ last two games. Boise State may not have a shutdown secondary, but it’s given up only 6.3 yards per pass attempt this season — significantly better than any unit Herbert has faced this season.

Pick: Boise State plus-7

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall plus-5.5 vs. Colorado State, over/under: 58

1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. on ESPN

Having lost four of their last five games, the Thundering Herd are more like the Stumbling Herd, based on public perception that’s seen two-thirds of the tickets come in on the Rams. But some bad fortune has gone into their downturn as the losses came by an average of less than 5 points. Marshall has a plus-85 point differential on the year to Colorado State’s plus-76, with the teams having comparable strengths of schedule.

Pick: Marshall plus-5.5

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee plus-3.5 vs. Arkansas State, over/under: 62

5 p.m. Saturday, Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. on ESPN

Statistically, this looks like a mismatch with the defenses relatively close but the Red Wolves fielding the much more efficient offense — they gained 6.3 yards per play this season to the Blue Raiders’ 5.7 yards per play. But that doesn’t tell the full story. Middle Tennessee was hamstrung by a massive number of injuries for most of the year, including to veteran quarterback Brent Stockstill. The Blue Raiders performed much better, including winning three of their final four to reach bowl eligibility, with Stockstill.

Pick: Arkansas State minus-3.5

Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Akron plus-22 vs. Florida Atlantic, over/under: 63.5

4 p.m. Wednesday, FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. on ESPN

Florida Atlantic covered an astounding seven games this season by more than two touchdowns. The only remarkable thing about Akron’s season was its luck in close games, as the Zips went 3-0 in contests decided by three points or less. They have one of the worst rush defenses in the country, making them ill equipped to handle sophomore Devin Singletary, who rushed for 6.5 yards per carry and 29 touchdowns for the Owls this season.

Pick: Florida Atlantic minus-22

DLX Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech plus-5 vs. SMU, over/under: 70

5 p.m. Wednesday, Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on ESPN

Looks like one of the tightest lined bowls with SMU getting to play a semi-home game boosted by one of the nation’s best offenses but bogged down by one of the nation’s worst defenses. The Mustangs are also introducing a new coach in Sonny Dykes, and when in doubt, it’s preferable to go with stability. Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz has a history of producing as an underdog.

Pick: Louisiana Tech plus-5

Bad Boy Movers Gasparilla Bowl: Temple minus-7.5 vs. Florida International, over/under: 56

5 p.m. Thursday, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on ESPN

Temple repaired its anemic offense late in the season behind the emergence of backup quarterback Frank Nutile but still has defensive issues — mostly stopping the pass, where it ranks a mediocre 70th in the nation by S&P. Florida International quarterback Alex McGough improved steadily throughout the year and should be able to take advantage.

Pick: Florida International plus-7.5

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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